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Explanations > Motivation > Goals

Definition | Forming goals | Timescales | Achieving goals | So what?



The word 'goals' is one that has many meanings, (especially to soccer players ;) so we'd better define it. When we talk about goals here, we mean:

An intended outcome
that requires action
that satisfies needs

Alternative words

There are a number of other words that get used in similar situations, and there doesn't seem to be one right word, so we've selected 'goal' as a generic word to describe the things you chase after. Apologies if 'goal' is not your chosen word or you use words such as:

  • Objective
  • Target
  • Performance
  • Outcome
  • Vision
  • Mission
  • Critical Success Factor (CSF)

Forming goals

We form goals by a process of questions and internal rumination.

What is possible?

We are constantly scanning the world around us to try and understand how it works. From this, we can then forecast the future and consequently decide what is possible as a goal for anyone.

What is desirable?

From all the possible things that we could try to achieve, some will be good for us as they satisfy our needs in some way. Those things that strongly satisfy needs will evoke feelings of desire.

What can I achieve?

When we have decided that something is possible and desirable, we also have to figure out whether it is at all possible for us to achieve. Although others may be able to become millionaires, we must then decide whether this is feasible for us.

This decision is based around our self-image and self-understanding, which is often based on what others tell us and even on how we think how others perceive us.

What is allowed?

We test the final goals against our values and other systems such as cultural rules to determine whether what we are proposing to set as goals is actually allowed.


Short-term goals

We are often driven in the short-term by things which are urgent to us, rather than those things which are truly important and which align with our longer-term goals.

Short-term goals are often to relieve short-term pressure. It is very possible to be constantly driven by these goals, which can turn out to be very unsatisfying in the longer term.

Longer-term goals

We also take on goals that guide our longer-term intent and actions. These often have medium-term and intermediate goals to satisfy us that we are on the right road and going somewhere.

Life goals

Some of us also sit back and ask what we want to achieve with our lives. A good way of thinking about this is to sit down and write your own obituary as you would really like it to be.

Achieving goals

Achieving our goals is one of the key ways we have of of feeling good. It is, in effect, the brain's way of rewarding us for meeting its needs.


We also feel good when we anticipate that we will meet our goals. In effect, what we do is go out into the future and place ourselves in a position where we have reached the goal. We thus 'steal' a bit of good feelings from the future.

Anticipation is generally a good thing, as it can motivate us along the path toward the goal. The only time that it is not so good is when are so good at imagining the future that we mix up the present and the future and 'use up' all of the good feelings of achievement. When we then think about the future, we do not have many good feelings (in fact we may feel that we have 'as good as' achieved the goal anyway) and hence we give up.

So what?

Set yourself goals that are achievable, and beware of falling into the trap of lowering your sights because you do not believe in your own capabilities.

Help others set goals which gets them to where they can be. Your view of their capabilities as presented to them will heavily influence their decisions as to whether they can achieve things.

To get them to act differently from their longer-term goals, apply short-term pressure.

See also

Looking-glass Self, Self-Perception Theory, Satisficing


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